Shisha Ban in Jeddah: Healthy Measures or Cultural Oppression?

Arab News:

The Jeddah mayoralty had set a grace period that ends today for cafes and restaurants in the city to stop serving shisha to costumers.

The ban will affect 238 restaurants and cafes reported to face an 80 percent drop in their revenue. These cafes would make a daily revenue of 7 to 10 thousand riyals from shisha alone.

The ban has only recently been enforced, with Riyadh and other cities having implemented this years ago. Shisha lovers now have to drive to cafes outside the city to smoke as the decision also applies to residential areas.

When the ban was first proposed a couple of years ago, the backlash from business owners and residents was very strong. This time the interior ministry seems determined to enforce it. Some people in Jeddah feel the ban is an attack on the identity and culture of this cosmopolitan city.

“Why do I revolt when I hear about banning shisha in Jeddah cafes? Is this something worth revolting for?” asked journalist Ebtihal Mubarak. “Yes, for me it is worth it.”

Brooklyn-based Mubarak sees the shisha ban as part of a “Najdification” effort by the government that has been going on for decades. In Riyadh, the Saudi capital and the heart of the central area of Najd, the ban on shisha within city limits has been in place for years.

She says while she supports “a ban on smoking in public spaces like government buildings, restaurants and parks because that is certainly a healthy thing,” she does not believe that banning shisha in specialized cafes where many Jeddah families have enjoyed it for years is due to health concerns.

“It is another attempt for another cultural oppression,” Mubarak wrote, “like when Prince Salman, as governor of Riyadh, allowed shisha only outside city limits while smoking cigarettes in public spaces was still allowed.”